Scotland has almost 20,000 kilometres of coastline and encompasses almost 800 islands, so naturally the Scots have a very special affinity to water and the sea. The sea has inspired some incredible stories of adventures, monsters and heroes. However, one of the best-known stories was told by an Englishman. Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe, a Scottish sea story. Defoe lived in Edinburgh during that time, acting spy for the English government. It was the time when the two kingdoms England and Scotland were united under one crown. From 1707 onwards, there was no Scottish parliament. After 1603, the King of Scotland and the King of England were the same person.
Defoe was inspired by a true story from the pretty little fishing village of Lower Largo in Fife. Alexander Selkirk was the son of Lower Largo’s shoemaker and not particularly happy with his life there. In 1695, he set off to sea. Some say not entirely voluntary. Whatever the reason, over 300 years ago, Alexander Selkirk went to sea, and he was doing well.
In 1703, he sailed on the HMS St George under William Dampier, from Kinsale to South America. Together with the smaller Cinque Ports, which sailed under Captain Thomas Stradling, the George set sail, but a few months later the captains of both ships were so at odds that they parted company and each continued individually. Alexander Selkirk must have felt some sympathy for Captain Stradling, who was sailing alone, because he, like Selkirk, could not get on with captain Dampier. The relationship between the two quickly deteriorated and when they reached the Juan Fernandez Islands, it had become so toxic that Selkirk preferred to stay alone on the island. He believed that the George was no longer seaworthy. He would rather stay alone on the uninhabited island than continue with Captain Stradling and the George at sea. He was proven right, as, not long after, the ship sank off the coast of Peru and almost the entire crew went down with her.
He was left as desired, with clothes and bedding, with a flint, some powder, bullets and tobacco, an axe, a knife, a pot, a Bible, and his mathematical instruments and books. Alexander Selkirk stayed on the island, which is now called Robinson Crusoe Island, for four years. It was not until 1709 that the crew of the HMS Duke discovered him and took him on board. He seemed to have lost all ability to speak. It took two more years before he finally came back to Scotland.
However, he could no longer cope with normal life. He built a cave in his father’s garden and lived in it, completely withdrawn. He lived like this for over ten years until he was drawn back to the sea again. He died on board the HMS Weymouth, the crew of which hunted pirates. Selkirk became famous because Defoe published his novel in 1719. The book became a classic and one of the best-selling books in the world. Alexander Selkirk never benefited from its fame.
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Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years.
Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel.This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.
The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.